LSAT Reading : Main Idea of Humanities Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for LSAT Reading

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Example Questions

Example Question #841 : Lsat Reading Comprehension

Adapted from The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (1532; trans. W. K. Marriott 1908)

Considering the difficulties which men have had to hold to a newly acquired state, some might wonder how, seeing that Alexander the Great became the master of Asia in a few years, and died whilst it was scarcely settled (whence it might appear reasonable that the whole empire would have rebelled), nevertheless his successors maintained themselves, and had to meet no other difficulty than that which arose among themselves from their own ambitions.

I answer that the principalities of which one has record are found to be governed in two different ways: either by a prince, with a body of servants, who assist him to govern the kingdom as ministers by his favor and permission; or by a prince and barons, who hold that dignity by antiquity of blood and not by the grace of the prince. Such barons have states and their own subjects, who recognize them as lords and hold them in natural affection. Those states that are governed by a prince and his servants hold their prince in more consideration, because in all the country there is no one who is recognized as superior to him, and if they yield obedience to another they do it as to a minister and official, and they do not bear him any particular affection.

The examples of these two governments in our time are the Turkish Monarchy and the King of France. The entire monarchy of Turkey is governed by one lord, the others are his servants; and, dividing his kingdom into Sanjaks, he sends there different administrators, and shifts and changes them as he chooses. But the King of France is placed in the midst of an ancient body of lords, acknowledged by their own subjects, and beloved by them; they have their own prerogatives, nor can the king take these away except at his peril. Therefore, he who considers both of these states will recognize great difficulties in seizing the state of the Turk, but, once it is conquered, great ease in holding it. The causes of the difficulties in seizing the Turkish Kingdom are that the usurper cannot be called in by the princes of the kingdom, nor can he hope to be assisted in his designs by the revolt of those whom the lord has around him. This arises from the reasons given above, for his ministers, being all slaves and bondmen, can only be corrupted with great difficulty, and one can expect little advantage from them when they have been corrupted, as they cannot carry the people with them, for the reasons assigned. Hence, he who attacks the Turkish must bear in mind that he will find him united, and he will have to rely more on his own strength than on the revolt of others; but, if once the Turkish ruler has been conquered, and routed in the field in such a way that he cannot replace his armies, there is nothing to fear but the family of this prince, and, this being exterminated, there remains no one to fear, the others having no credit with the people; and as the conqueror did not rely on them before his victory, so he ought not to fear them after it.

The contrary happens in kingdoms governed like that of France, because one can easily enter there by gaining over some baron of the kingdom, for one always finds malcontents and such as desire a change. Such men, for the reasons given, can open the way into the state and render the victory easy; but if you wish to hold it afterwards, you meet with infinite difficulties, both from those who have assisted you and from those you have crushed. Nor is it enough for you to have exterminated the family of the prince, because the lords that remain make themselves the heads of fresh movements against you, and as you are unable either to satisfy or exterminate them, that state is lost whenever time brings the opportunity.

Now if you will consider what was the nature of the government of Darius, you will find it similar to the Turkish Kingdom, and therefore it was only necessary for Alexander first to overthrow him in the field, and then to take the country from him. After which victory, Darius being killed, the state remained secure to Alexander, for the above reasons. And if his successors had been united they would have enjoyed it securely and at their ease, for there were no tumults raised in the kingdom except those they provoked themselves.

But it is impossible to hold with such tranquility states constituted like that of France. Hence arose those frequent rebellions against the Romans in Spain, France, and Greece, owing to the many principalities there were in these states, of which, as long as the memory of them endured, the Romans always held an insecure possession; but with the power and long continuance of the empire the memory of them passed away, and the Romans then became secure possessors. And when fighting afterwards amongst themselves, each one was able to attach to himself his own parts of the country, according to the authority he had assumed there; and the family of the former lord being exterminated, none other than the Romans were acknowledged.

When these things are remembered no one will marvel at the ease with which Alexander held the Empire of Asia, or at the difficulties which others have had to keep an acquisition, such as Pyrrhus and many more; this is not occasioned by the little or abundance of ability in the conqueror, but by the want of uniformity in the subject state.

Which of these is the best title to give this essay?

Possible Answers:

"The Easiest Kingdom to Govern is One without an Established Aristocracy"

"How to Suppress a Revolution Among the Nobility"

"A Contemporary Comparison Between the Turkish Monarchy and the Kingdom of France"

"On the Different Types of Principalities, and How They are Conquered and Administered"

"The Causes of the Difficulties Faced by Alexander the Greats’ Successors"

Correct answer:

"On the Different Types of Principalities, and How They are Conquered and Administered"

Explanation:

When asked to give a title to an essay in the LSAT Reading section, you are essentially being asked if you understand the thesis and primary purpose of the essay. It should be reasonably clear that the primary purpose of this particular essay is to differentiate between two different types of principalities and how those differences affect the manner in which they can be conquered and the ease with which they can be held and administered. Most of the other options describe the subject of paragraphs within the essay, but do not reliably encapsulate the whole point of the essay.

Example Question #12 : Main Idea Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (1532; trans. W. K. Marriott 1908)

Considering the difficulties which men have had to hold to a newly acquired state, some might wonder how, seeing that Alexander the Great became the master of Asia in a few years, and died whilst it was scarcely settled (whence it might appear reasonable that the whole empire would have rebelled), nevertheless his successors maintained themselves, and had to meet no other difficulty than that which arose among themselves from their own ambitions.

I answer that the principalities of which one has record are found to be governed in two different ways: either by a prince, with a body of servants, who assist him to govern the kingdom as ministers by his favor and permission; or by a prince and barons, who hold that dignity by antiquity of blood and not by the grace of the prince. Such barons have states and their own subjects, who recognize them as lords and hold them in natural affection. Those states that are governed by a prince and his servants hold their prince in more consideration, because in all the country there is no one who is recognized as superior to him, and if they yield obedience to another they do it as to a minister and official, and they do not bear him any particular affection.

The examples of these two governments in our time are the Turkish Monarchy and the King of France. The entire monarchy of Turkey is governed by one lord, the others are his servants; and, dividing his kingdom into Sanjaks, he sends there different administrators, and shifts and changes them as he chooses. But the King of France is placed in the midst of an ancient body of lords, acknowledged by their own subjects, and beloved by them; they have their own prerogatives, nor can the king take these away except at his peril. Therefore, he who considers both of these states will recognize great difficulties in seizing the state of the Turk, but, once it is conquered, great ease in holding it. The causes of the difficulties in seizing the Turkish Kingdom are that the usurper cannot be called in by the princes of the kingdom, nor can he hope to be assisted in his designs by the revolt of those whom the lord has around him. This arises from the reasons given above, for his ministers, being all slaves and bondmen, can only be corrupted with great difficulty, and one can expect little advantage from them when they have been corrupted, as they cannot carry the people with them, for the reasons assigned. Hence, he who attacks the Turkish must bear in mind that he will find him united, and he will have to rely more on his own strength than on the revolt of others; but, if once the Turkish ruler has been conquered, and routed in the field in such a way that he cannot replace his armies, there is nothing to fear but the family of this prince, and, this being exterminated, there remains no one to fear, the others having no credit with the people; and as the conqueror did not rely on them before his victory, so he ought not to fear them after it.

The contrary happens in kingdoms governed like that of France, because one can easily enter there by gaining over some baron of the kingdom, for one always finds malcontents and such as desire a change. Such men, for the reasons given, can open the way into the state and render the victory easy; but if you wish to hold it afterwards, you meet with infinite difficulties, both from those who have assisted you and from those you have crushed. Nor is it enough for you to have exterminated the family of the prince, because the lords that remain make themselves the heads of fresh movements against you, and as you are unable either to satisfy or exterminate them, that state is lost whenever time brings the opportunity.

Now if you will consider what was the nature of the government of Darius, you will find it similar to the Turkish Kingdom, and therefore it was only necessary for Alexander first to overthrow him in the field, and then to take the country from him. After which victory, Darius being killed, the state remained secure to Alexander, for the above reasons. And if his successors had been united they would have enjoyed it securely and at their ease, for there were no tumults raised in the kingdom except those they provoked themselves.

But it is impossible to hold with such tranquility states constituted like that of France. Hence arose those frequent rebellions against the Romans in Spain, France, and Greece, owing to the many principalities there were in these states, of which, as long as the memory of them endured, the Romans always held an insecure possession; but with the power and long continuance of the empire the memory of them passed away, and the Romans then became secure possessors. And when fighting afterwards amongst themselves, each one was able to attach to himself his own parts of the country, according to the authority he had assumed there; and the family of the former lord being exterminated, none other than the Romans were acknowledged.

When these things are remembered no one will marvel at the ease with which Alexander held the Empire of Asia, or at the difficulties which others have had to keep an acquisition, such as Pyrrhus and many more; this is not occasioned by the little or abundance of ability in the conqueror, but by the want of uniformity in the subject state.

Which of these statements is argued by the author?

Possible Answers:

None of these answers are argued by the author.

It would prove a much greater challenge to attempt to conquer the Kingdom of France than it would to try to conquer the Turkish Kingdom.

The King of France is foolish for surrounding himself with so many different centers of power and cannot hope to last very long.

The death of Alexander the Great caused great chaos and disarray throughout the vast territory that he had captured.

It would be difficult to conquer the Turkish Kingdom, but having been conquered, it would be significantly easier to hold than the Kingdom of France.

Correct answer:

It would be difficult to conquer the Turkish Kingdom, but having been conquered, it would be significantly easier to hold than the Kingdom of France.

Explanation:

This question essentially requires you to fully understand the entirety of the argument made by the author. The Turkish Kingdom is more difficult to conquer because it is governed by servants and not by barons, and therefore there is no one with whom to collude. But, once it has been conquered, it would be much easier to hold than the Kingdom of France because the barons would not be present to cause disarray. Although the author decries the situation of the King of France as unfortunate, he does not blame him, so you cannot say he makes this argument. Likewise, the author argues that the actions of Alexander's successors caused chaos, but that Alexander's death itself need not have.

Example Question #13 : Main Idea Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (1532; trans. W. K. Marriott 1908)

Considering the difficulties which men have had to hold to a newly acquired state, some might wonder how, seeing that Alexander the Great became the master of Asia in a few years, and died whilst it was scarcely settled (whence it might appear reasonable that the whole empire would have rebelled), nevertheless his successors maintained themselves, and had to meet no other difficulty than that which arose among themselves from their own ambitions.

I answer that the principalities of which one has record are found to be governed in two different ways: either by a prince, with a body of servants, who assist him to govern the kingdom as ministers by his favor and permission; or by a prince and barons, who hold that dignity by antiquity of blood and not by the grace of the prince. Such barons have states and their own subjects, who recognize them as lords and hold them in natural affection. Those states that are governed by a prince and his servants hold their prince in more consideration, because in all the country there is no one who is recognized as superior to him, and if they yield obedience to another they do it as to a minister and official, and they do not bear him any particular affection.

The examples of these two governments in our time are the Turkish Monarchy and the King of France. The entire monarchy of Turkey is governed by one lord, the others are his servants; and, dividing his kingdom into Sanjaks, he sends there different administrators, and shifts and changes them as he chooses. But the King of France is placed in the midst of an ancient body of lords, acknowledged by their own subjects, and beloved by them; they have their own prerogatives, nor can the king take these away except at his peril. Therefore, he who considers both of these states will recognize great difficulties in seizing the state of the Turk, but, once it is conquered, great ease in holding it. The causes of the difficulties in seizing the Turkish Kingdom are that the usurper cannot be called in by the princes of the kingdom, nor can he hope to be assisted in his designs by the revolt of those whom the lord has around him. This arises from the reasons given above, for his ministers, being all slaves and bondmen, can only be corrupted with great difficulty, and one can expect little advantage from them when they have been corrupted, as they cannot carry the people with them, for the reasons assigned. Hence, he who attacks the Turkish must bear in mind that he will find him united, and he will have to rely more on his own strength than on the revolt of others; but, if once the Turkish ruler has been conquered, and routed in the field in such a way that he cannot replace his armies, there is nothing to fear but the family of this prince, and, this being exterminated, there remains no one to fear, the others having no credit with the people; and as the conqueror did not rely on them before his victory, so he ought not to fear them after it.

The contrary happens in kingdoms governed like that of France, because one can easily enter there by gaining over some baron of the kingdom, for one always finds malcontents and such as desire a change. Such men, for the reasons given, can open the way into the state and render the victory easy; but if you wish to hold it afterwards, you meet with infinite difficulties, both from those who have assisted you and from those you have crushed. Nor is it enough for you to have exterminated the family of the prince, because the lords that remain make themselves the heads of fresh movements against you, and as you are unable either to satisfy or exterminate them, that state is lost whenever time brings the opportunity.

Now if you will consider what was the nature of the government of Darius, you will find it similar to the Turkish Kingdom, and therefore it was only necessary for Alexander first to overthrow him in the field, and then to take the country from him. After which victory, Darius being killed, the state remained secure to Alexander, for the above reasons. And if his successors had been united they would have enjoyed it securely and at their ease, for there were no tumults raised in the kingdom except those they provoked themselves.

But it is impossible to hold with such tranquility states constituted like that of France. Hence arose those frequent rebellions against the Romans in Spain, France, and Greece, owing to the many principalities there were in these states, of which, as long as the memory of them endured, the Romans always held an insecure possession; but with the power and long continuance of the empire the memory of them passed away, and the Romans then became secure possessors. And when fighting afterwards amongst themselves, each one was able to attach to himself his own parts of the country, according to the authority he had assumed there; and the family of the former lord being exterminated, none other than the Romans were acknowledged.

When these things are remembered no one will marvel at the ease with which Alexander held the Empire of Asia, or at the difficulties which others have had to keep an acquisition, such as Pyrrhus and many more; this is not occasioned by the little or abundance of ability in the conqueror, but by the want of uniformity in the subject state.

Which quality of a state does the author believe is most critical to whether or not it can be easily held after being conquered?

Possible Answers:

Its happiness.

Its wealth.

Its uniformity.

Its traditions.

Its obedience.

Correct answer:

Its uniformity.

Explanation:

In the concluding paragraph, the author  “When these things are remembered no one will marvel at . . . the difficulties which others have had to keep an acquisition, such as Pyrrhus and many more; this is not occasioned by the little or abundance of ability in the conqueror, but by the want of uniformity in the subject state.” The phrase “want of uniformity” means lack of uniformity and suggests that the author believes that the uniformity of a state is most critical in determining how easily it might be held after being conquered. This could also be inferred from an understanding of the whole passage, as the difficulty with holding the Kingdom of France is clearly its lack of a uniform power structure.

Example Question #14 : Main Idea Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli (1532; trans. W. K. Marriott 1908)

Considering the difficulties which men have had to hold to a newly acquired state, some might wonder how, seeing that Alexander the Great became the master of Asia in a few years, and died whilst it was scarcely settled (whence it might appear reasonable that the whole empire would have rebelled), nevertheless his successors maintained themselves, and had to meet no other difficulty than that which arose among themselves from their own ambitions.

I answer that the principalities of which one has record are found to be governed in two different ways: either by a prince, with a body of servants, who assist him to govern the kingdom as ministers by his favor and permission; or by a prince and barons, who hold that dignity by antiquity of blood and not by the grace of the prince. Such barons have states and their own subjects, who recognize them as lords and hold them in natural affection. Those states that are governed by a prince and his servants hold their prince in more consideration, because in all the country there is no one who is recognized as superior to him, and if they yield obedience to another they do it as to a minister and official, and they do not bear him any particular affection.

The examples of these two governments in our time are the Turkish Monarchy and the King of France. The entire monarchy of Turkey is governed by one lord, the others are his servants; and, dividing his kingdom into Sanjaks, he sends there different administrators, and shifts and changes them as he chooses. But the King of France is placed in the midst of an ancient body of lords, acknowledged by their own subjects, and beloved by them; they have their own prerogatives, nor can the king take these away except at his peril. Therefore, he who considers both of these states will recognize great difficulties in seizing the state of the Turk, but, once it is conquered, great ease in holding it. The causes of the difficulties in seizing the Turkish Kingdom are that the usurper cannot be called in by the princes of the kingdom, nor can he hope to be assisted in his designs by the revolt of those whom the lord has around him. This arises from the reasons given above, for his ministers, being all slaves and bondmen, can only be corrupted with great difficulty, and one can expect little advantage from them when they have been corrupted, as they cannot carry the people with them, for the reasons assigned. Hence, he who attacks the Turkish must bear in mind that he will find him united, and he will have to rely more on his own strength than on the revolt of others; but, if once the Turkish ruler has been conquered, and routed in the field in such a way that he cannot replace his armies, there is nothing to fear but the family of this prince, and, this being exterminated, there remains no one to fear, the others having no credit with the people; and as the conqueror did not rely on them before his victory, so he ought not to fear them after it.

The contrary happens in kingdoms governed like that of France, because one can easily enter there by gaining over some baron of the kingdom, for one always finds malcontents and such as desire a change. Such men, for the reasons given, can open the way into the state and render the victory easy; but if you wish to hold it afterwards, you meet with infinite difficulties, both from those who have assisted you and from those you have crushed. Nor is it enough for you to have exterminated the family of the prince, because the lords that remain make themselves the heads of fresh movements against you, and as you are unable either to satisfy or exterminate them, that state is lost whenever time brings the opportunity.

Now if you will consider what was the nature of the government of Darius, you will find it similar to the Turkish Kingdom, and therefore it was only necessary for Alexander first to overthrow him in the field, and then to take the country from him. After which victory, Darius being killed, the state remained secure to Alexander, for the above reasons. And if his successors had been united they would have enjoyed it securely and at their ease, for there were no tumults raised in the kingdom except those they provoked themselves.

But it is impossible to hold with such tranquility states constituted like that of France. Hence arose those frequent rebellions against the Romans in Spain, France, and Greece, owing to the many principalities there were in these states, of which, as long as the memory of them endured, the Romans always held an insecure possession; but with the power and long continuance of the empire the memory of them passed away, and the Romans then became secure possessors. And when fighting afterwards amongst themselves, each one was able to attach to himself his own parts of the country, according to the authority he had assumed there; and the family of the former lord being exterminated, none other than the Romans were acknowledged.

When these things are remembered no one will marvel at the ease with which Alexander held the Empire of Asia, or at the difficulties which others have had to keep an acquisition, such as Pyrrhus and many more; this is not occasioned by the little or abundance of ability in the conqueror, but by the want of uniformity in the subject state.

Which of these best states the main idea of this passage?

Possible Answers:

None of these answers accurately states the main idea of this passage.

There are two different types of principalities, and they represent different challenges when it comes to conquering and holding them.

The history of Alexander the Great is an example of the importance of maintaining a unified empire.

The Kingdom of France and the Turkish Kingdom are both extremely challenging to conquer.

There are two different types of principalities, and both can be conquered easily, but each represents a unique challenge once they have been conquered.

Correct answer:

There are two different types of principalities, and they represent different challenges when it comes to conquering and holding them.

Explanation:

The main idea of this passage is that there are two types of principalities. One is governed by a king placed amid an established aristocracy, and one is governed by a king and his servants and administrators. These two types of principalities present different challenges when it comes to conquering and holding their territory.

Example Question #15 : Main Idea Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from "Of Discourse" in Essays, Civil And Moral by Francis Bacon (1625) in Volume III, Part 1 of The Harvard Classics (1909-14)

Some, in their discourse, desire rather commendation of wit, in being able to hold all arguments, than of judgment, in discerning what is true; as if it were a praise to know what might be said, and not what should be thought. Some have certain common places and themes wherein they are good and want variety, which kind of poverty is for the most part tedious, and when it is once perceived, ridiculous. The most honorable part of talk is to give the occasion, and again to moderate, and pass to somewhat else, for then a man leads the dance. It is good, in discourse and speech of conversation, to vary and intermingle speech of the present occasion with arguments, tales with reasons, asking of questions with telling of opinions, and jest with earnest; for it is a dull thing to tire, and, as we say now, to jade, anything too far. As for jest, there be certain things that ought to be privileged from it, namely religion, matters of state, great persons, any man's present business of importance, and any case that deserves pity. Yet there be some who think their wits have been asleep, except they dart out something that is piquant and to the quick. That is a vein which would be bridled:

Parce, puer, stimulis, et fortius utere loris. ("Boy, spare the whip and grasp the reins more firmly." (Ovid))

And generally, men ought to find the difference between saltiness and bitterness. Certainly, he that has a satirical vein, as he makes others afraid of his wit, so he had need be afraid of others' memory. He that questions much shall learn much and content much, but especially if he applies his questions to the skill of the persons whom he asks; for he shall give them occasion to please themselves in speaking, and himself shall continually gather knowledge. But let his questions not be troublesome; for that is fit for a poser. And let him be sure to leave other men their turns to speak. No, if there be any who would reign and take up all the time, let him find means to take them off, and to bring others on, as musicians do with those that dance too long galliards. If you dissemble sometimes your knowledge of that you are thought to know, you shall be thought at another time to know that you know not. Speech of a man's self ought to be seldom, and well chosen. I knew one was wont to say in scorn, "He must needs be a wise man, he speaks so much of himself." There is but one case wherein a man may commend himself with good grace, and that is in commending virtue in another, especially if it be such a virtue whereunto himself pretended. Speech of touch towards others should be sparingly used, for discourse ought to be as a field, without coming home to any man. I knew two noblemen of the west part of England whereof the one was given to scoff, but kept ever royal cheer in his house; the other would ask, of those that had been at the other's table, "Tell truly, was there never a flout or dry blow given?" To which the guest would answer, "Such and such a thing passed. The lord would say, 'I thought he would mar a good dinner.'" Discretion of speech is more than eloquence, and to speak agreeably to him with whom we deal is more than to speak in good words, or in good order. A good continued speech, without a good speech of interlocution, shows slowness, and a good reply or second speech, without a good settled speech, shows shallowness and weakness. As we see in beasts, that those that are weakest in the course are yet nimblest in the turn, as it is betwixt the greyhound and the hare. To use too many circumstances, ere one come to the matter, is wearisome; to use none at all is blunt.

Which of the following questions is central to the passage?

Possible Answers:

What makes a good discourse? 

When did the art of discourse come into being?

How can we categorize discourse in relation to argument?

Are those who discourse well the greatest speakers?

Where can we find the greatest men of discourse?

Correct answer:

What makes a good discourse? 

Explanation:

The author's main argument is that a good discourse is formed by specific rules and people. As he starts the passage “Some, in their discourse, desire rather commendation of wit, in being able to hold all arguments, than of judgement, in discerning what is true.” The entire passage revolves around the question of good discourse. We cannot say any of the other answers are correct, as their points are either part of the argument or simply lacking in verification.

Example Question #841 : Lsat Reading Comprehension

Adapted from an article in The New Statesman by Bertrand Russell (May 24th, 1913)

Science, to the ordinary reader of newspapers, is represented by a varying selection of sensational triumphs, such as wireless telegraphy, airplanes, radio-activity, and the marvels of modern alchemy. It is not of this aspect of science that I wish to speak. Science, in this aspect, consists of detached up-to-date fragments, interesting only until they are replaced by something newer and more up-to-date, displaying nothing of the systems of patiently constructed knowledge out of which, almost as a casual incident, have come the practically useful results which interest the man in the street. The increased command over the forces of nature which is derived from science is undoubtedly an amply sufficient reason for encouraging scientific research, but this reason has been so often urged and is so easily appreciated that other reasons, to my mind quite as important, are apt to be overlooked. It is with these other reasons, especially with the intrinsic value of a scientific habit of mind in forming our outlook on the world that I shall be concerned in what follows.

From the point of view of training the mind, of giving that well-informed, impersonal outlook which constitutes culture in the good sense of this much-misused word, it seems to be generally held indisputable that a literary education is superior to one based on science. Even the warmest advocates of science are apt to rest their claims on the contention that culture ought to be sacrificed to utility. Those men of science who respect culture, when they associate with men learned in the classics, are apt to admit, not merely politely, but sincerely, a certain inferiority on their side, compensated doubtless by the services which science renders to humanity, but none the less real. And so long as this attitude exists among men of science, it tends to verify itself: the intrinsically valuable aspects of science tend to be sacrificed to the merely useful, and little attempt is made to preserve that leisurely, systematic survey by which the finer quality of mind is formed and nourished.

But even if there be, in present fact, any such inferiority as is supposed in the educational value of science, this is, I believe, not the fault of science itself, but the fault of the spirit in which science is taught. If its full possibilities were realized by those who teach it, I believe that its capacity of producing those habits of mind which constitute the highest mental excellence would be at least as great as that of literature, and more particularly of Greek and Latin literature. In saying this I have no wish whatever to disparage a classical education. One defect, however, does seem inherent in a purely classical education—namely, a too exclusive emphasis on the past. By the study of what is absolutely ended and can never be renewed, a habit of criticism towards the present and the future is engendered. The qualities in which the present excels are qualities to which the study of the past does not direct attention, and to which, therefore, the student of Greek civilization may easily become blind. In what is new and growing there is apt to be something crude, insolent, even a little vulgar, which is shocking to the man of sensitive taste; quivering from the rough contact, he retires to the trim gardens of a polished past, forgetting that they were reclaimed from the wilderness by men as rough and earth-soiled as those from whom he shrinks in his own day. The habit of being unable to recognize merit until it is dead is too apt to be the result of a purely bookish life, and a culture based wholly on the past will seldom be able to pierce through everyday surroundings to the essential splendor of contemporary things, or to the hope of still greater splendor in the future.

This piece could most reasonably be titled __________.

Possible Answers:

"A Comparison Between the Study of Science and the Study of the Classics"

"The True Glories of Scientific Study and Exploration"

"In Defense of a Scientific Education"

"The Problems with Classical Education"

"A Condemnation of the Approach of the Common Man to the Pursuits of Science"

Correct answer:

"In Defense of a Scientific Education"

Explanation:

Many of these answers could summarize a part or a brief segment of the passage, but only the answer choice “In Defense of a Scientific Education” adequately captures the primary purpose of the entire passage. Yes, the author does discuss the problems with a classical education, but only as a means to emphasize the importance of a scientific education by comparison. And, likewise, he does condemn the approach of the common man to the pursuits of science, but only to demonstrate how scientific education is often misunderstood. Finally, there is a comparison between the study of science and the study of the classics, but this again is done to demonstrate the worth of a scientific education. From the author’s tone throughout the passage and the conclusions he reaches in it, it is clear that this passage is intended to defend science and a scientific education from accusations that a scientific education is inferior to a classical education.

Example Question #321 : Analyzing Humanities Passages

Adapted from Logic: Inductive and Deductive by William Minto (1915)

We cannot inquire far into the meaning of proverbs or traditional sayings without discovering that the common understanding of general and abstract names is loose and uncertain. Common speech is a quicksand.

Consider how we acquire our vocabulary, how we pick up the words that we use from our neighbors and from books, and why this is so soon becomes apparent. Theoretically, we know the full meaning of a name when we know all the attributes that it connotes, and we are not justified in extending it except to objects that possess all the attributes. This is the logical ideal, but between the ought to be of Logic and the is of practical life, there is a vast difference. How seldom do we conceive words in their full meaning! And who is to instruct us in the full meaning? It is not as in the exact sciences, where we start with knowledge of the full meaning. In Geometry, for example, we learn the definitions of the words used, "point," "line," "parallel," etc., before we proceed to use them. But in common speech, we hear the words applied to individual objects; we utter them in the same connection; we extend them to other objects that strike us as like without knowing the precise points of likeness that the convention of common speech includes. The more exact meaning we learn by gradual induction from individual cases. The individual's extension of the name proceeds upon what in the objects has most impressed him when he caught the word: this may differ in different individuals; the usage of neighbors corrects individual eccentricities. The child in arms shouts "Da" at the passing stranger who reminds him of his father; for him at first it is a general name applicable to every man; by degrees he learns that for him it is a singular name.

It is obvious that to avoid error and confusion, the meaning or connotation of names, the concepts, should somehow be fixed; names cannot otherwise have an identical reference in human intercourse. We may call this ideal fixed concept the Logical Concept. But in actual speech we have also the Personal Concept, which varies more or less with the individual user, and the Popular or Vernacular Concept, which, though roughly fixed, varies from social sect to social sect and from generation to generation.

When we come to words of which the logical concept is a complex relation, an obscure or intangible attribute, the defects of the popular conception and its tendencies to change and confusion are of the greatest practical importance. Take such words as "monarchy," "civil freedom," "landlord," “culture.” Not merely should we find it difficult to give an analytic definition of such words; we might be unable to do so, and yet flatter ourselves that we had a clear understanding of their meaning. 

It was with reference to this state of things that Hegel formulated his paradox that the true abstract thinker is the plain man who laughs at philosophy as what he calls abstract and unpractical. He holds decided opinions for or against this or the other abstraction, "freedom," "tyranny," "revolution," "reform," "socialism," but what these words mean and within what limits the things signified are desirable or undesirable, he is in too great a hurry to pause and consider.

The disadvantages of this kind of "abstract" thinking are obvious. The accumulated wisdom of mankind is stored in language. Until we have cleared our conceptions, and penetrated to the full meaning of words, that wisdom is a sealed book to us. Wise maxims are interpreted by us hastily in accordance with our own narrow conceptions. All the vocabulary of a language may be more or less familiar to us, and yet we may not have learnt it as an instrument of thought.

Which of these best captures the main idea of the second paragraph?

Possible Answers:

People learn words before they really understand them and if we want to have consistency in language we must teach the word and its correct meaning simultaneously.

It is impossible to define the vast majority of words because people have their own personal ideas about how each thing could best be described.

People learn the meaning of words best when those words are specifically and rigidly defined.

Babies learn words without being intentionally taught them and seem to develop incorrect assumptions about the meanings of certain words.

We learn the meaning of most words organically and as a result the exact definition and application of those words will differ from person to person.

Correct answer:

We learn the meaning of most words organically and as a result the exact definition and application of those words will differ from person to person.

Explanation:

The second paragraph begins with the author stating, “Consider how we acquire our vocabulary, how we pick up the words that we use from our neighbors and from books.” We thus know that the second paragraph is going to be a consideration of how we acquire words and definitions for things. The author goes on to state, “We hear the words applied to individual objects; we utter them in the same connection; we extend them to other objects that strike us as like without knowing the precise points of likeness that the convention of common speech includes.” This tells us that the author believes we learn words "organically," or naturally. Finally, the author says, “The individual's extension of the name proceeds upon what in the objects has most impressed him when he caught the word: this may differ in different individuals.” This tells us that the author believes the result of our organic learning is that the exact definition and application of words differs from person to person. The other answer choices either summarize a small part of the paragraph, or else they draw incorrect conclusions from the author’s writing.

Example Question #161 : Content Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)

The being finished speaking and fixed his looks upon me in the expectation of a reply. But I was bewildered, perplexed, and unable to arrange my ideas sufficiently to understand the full extent of his proposition. He continued, "You must create a female for me with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being. This you alone can do, and I demand it of you as a right which you must not refuse to concede."

The latter part of his tale had kindled anew in me the anger that had died away while he narrated his peaceful life among the cottagers, and as he said this I could no longer suppress the rage that burned within me.

"I do refuse it," I replied; "and no torture shall ever extort a consent from me. You may render me the most miserable of men, but you shall never make me base in my own eyes. Shall I create another like yourself, whose joint wickedness might desolate the world. Begone!"

"You are in the wrong," replied the fiend; "and instead of threatening, I am content to reason with you. I am malicious because I am miserable. Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind? Let man live with me in the interchange of kindness, and instead of injury I would bestow every benefit upon him with tears of gratitude at his acceptance. But that cannot be . . . Yet mine shall not be the submission of abject slavery. I will revenge my injuries; if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear, and chiefly towards you my arch-enemy. Have a care; I will work at your destruction, nor finish until I desolate your heart, so that you shall curse the hour of your birth."

A fiendish rage animated him as he said this; his face was wrinkled into contortions too horrible for human eyes to behold; but presently he calmed himself and proceeded—

"I intended to reason. What I ask of you is reasonable and moderate; I demand a creature of another sex, but as hideous as myself. Our lives will not be happy, but they will be harmless and free from the misery I now feel. Oh! My creator, make me happy; let me feel gratitude towards you for one benefit!”

I was moved. I shuddered when I thought of the possible consequences of my consent, but I felt that there was some justice in his argument. His tale and the feelings he now expressed proved him to be a creature of fine sensations, and did I not as his maker owe him all the portion of happiness that it was in my power to bestow? He saw my change of feeling and continued,

"If you consent, neither you nor any other human being shall ever see us again; I will go to the vast wilds of South America. We shall make our bed of dried leaves; the sun will shine on us as on man and will ripen our food, acorns and berries. The picture I present to you is peaceful and human, and you must feel that you could deny it only in the wantonness of power and cruelty. Pitiless as you have been towards me, I now see compassion in your eyes; let me seize the favorable moment and persuade you to promise what I so ardently desire."

Which one of the following most accurately states the main point of the passage?

Possible Answers:

The creator and the creation are arguing about the root of happiness.

The creator wants to destroy the creation because of its actions.

The creation has been spurned by those around him and wants to create for himself to rectify this.

The creation wants to breed so it may overtake mankind.

The creation wants the company it is denied by human society’s rejection of it.

Correct answer:

The creation wants the company it is denied by human society’s rejection of it.

Explanation:

Do not be mislead here by the statement “The creation has been spurned by those around him and wants to create for himself to rectify this,” as it is deceptively similar to the correct statement but with careful reading becomes false as the creation does not want to create anything himself; instead, he wants his creator to create for him. We know from what the creation says that he has been rejected by human society and that he wants the company of another of his kind so he may feel the same happiness he has witnessed in human society. This is the main impetus of his argument with his creator.

Example Question #19 : Main Idea Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)

The being finished speaking and fixed his looks upon me in the expectation of a reply. But I was bewildered, perplexed, and unable to arrange my ideas sufficiently to understand the full extent of his proposition. He continued, "You must create a female for me with whom I can live in the interchange of those sympathies necessary for my being. This you alone can do, and I demand it of you as a right which you must not refuse to concede."

The latter part of his tale had kindled anew in me the anger that had died away while he narrated his peaceful life among the cottagers, and as he said this I could no longer suppress the rage that burned within me.

"I do refuse it," I replied; "and no torture shall ever extort a consent from me. You may render me the most miserable of men, but you shall never make me base in my own eyes. Shall I create another like yourself, whose joint wickedness might desolate the world. Begone!"

"You are in the wrong," replied the fiend; "and instead of threatening, I am content to reason with you. I am malicious because I am miserable. Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind? Let man live with me in the interchange of kindness, and instead of injury I would bestow every benefit upon him with tears of gratitude at his acceptance. But that cannot be . . . Yet mine shall not be the submission of abject slavery. I will revenge my injuries; if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear, and chiefly towards you my arch-enemy. Have a care; I will work at your destruction, nor finish until I desolate your heart, so that you shall curse the hour of your birth."

A fiendish rage animated him as he said this; his face was wrinkled into contortions too horrible for human eyes to behold; but presently he calmed himself and proceeded—

"I intended to reason. What I ask of you is reasonable and moderate; I demand a creature of another sex, but as hideous as myself. Our lives will not be happy, but they will be harmless and free from the misery I now feel. Oh! My creator, make me happy; let me feel gratitude towards you for one benefit!”

I was moved. I shuddered when I thought of the possible consequences of my consent, but I felt that there was some justice in his argument. His tale and the feelings he now expressed proved him to be a creature of fine sensations, and did I not as his maker owe him all the portion of happiness that it was in my power to bestow? He saw my change of feeling and continued,

"If you consent, neither you nor any other human being shall ever see us again; I will go to the vast wilds of South America. We shall make our bed of dried leaves; the sun will shine on us as on man and will ripen our food, acorns and berries. The picture I present to you is peaceful and human, and you must feel that you could deny it only in the wantonness of power and cruelty. Pitiless as you have been towards me, I now see compassion in your eyes; let me seize the favorable moment and persuade you to promise what I so ardently desire."

Which one of the following questions is central to the passage?

Possible Answers:

Are we plagued by our inventions?

Should we forget past errors or forgive their failings?

Is one innately trusting of one's own creations?

Do men make their decisions easily?

Will the creator create again? 

Correct answer:

Will the creator create again? 

Explanation:

Whilst those who are familiar will the book from which the passage is adapted will be able to associate some of the other questions with the general plot, but here we must look exclusively at the passage. The question which drives the passage is “Will the creator create again?” At the end, the answer has most probably changed from “no” to “yes,” but the indecision of the narrator is very distinct.

Example Question #20 : Main Idea Of Humanities Passages

Adapted from The Diary Of Samuel Pepys (1893) by Samuel Pepys.

September 1st. Up and at the office all the morning, and then dined at home. Got my new closet made mighty clean against to-morrow. Sir W. Pen and my wife and Mercer and I to "Polichinelly," but were there horribly frighted to see Young Killigrew come in with a great many more young sparks; but we hid ourselves, so as we think they did not see us. By and by, they went away, and then we were at rest again; and so, the play being done, we to Islington, and there eat and drank and mighty merry; and so home singing, and, after a letter or two at the office, to bed.

2nd (Lord's day). Some of our maids sitting up late last night to get things ready against our feast to-day, Jane called us up about three in the morning, to tell us of a great fire they saw in the City. So I rose and slipped on my nightgowne, and went to her window, and thought it to be on the backside of Marke-lane at the farthest; but, being unused to such fires as followed, I thought it far enough off; and so went to bed again and to sleep. About seven rose again to dress myself, and there looked out at the window, and saw the fire not so much as it was and further off. So to my closet to set things to rights after yesterdays cleaning. By and by Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been burned down to-night by the fire we saw, and that it is now burning down all Fish-street, by London Bridge. So I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower, and there got up upon one of the high places, Sir J. Robinson's little son going up with me; and there I did see the houses at that end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side the end of the bridge; which, among other people, did trouble me for poor little Michell and our Sarah on the bridge. So down, with my heart full of trouble, to the Lieutenant of the Tower, who tells me that it begun this morning in the King's baker's' house in Pudding-lane, and that it hath burned St. Magnus's Church and most part of Fish-street already. So I down to the water-side, and there got a boat and through bridge, and there saw a lamentable fire. Poor Michell's house, as far as the Old Swan, already burned that way, and the fire running further, that in a very little time it got as far as the Steeleyard, while I was there. Everybody endeavouring to remove their goods, and flinging into the river or bringing them into lighters that layoff; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one pair of stairs by the water-side to another. And among other things, the poor pigeons, I perceive, were loath to leave their houses, but hovered about the windows and balconies till they were, some of them burned, their wings, and fell down. Having staid, and in an hour's time seen the fire: rage every way, and nobody, to my sight, endeavouring to quench it, but to remove their goods, and leave all to the fire, and having seen it get as far as the Steele-yard, and the wind mighty high and driving it into the City; and everything, after so long a drought, proving combustible, even the very stones of churches, and among other things the poor steeple by which pretty Mrs.————lives, and whereof my old school-fellow Elborough is parson, taken fire in the very top, an there burned till it fell down: I to White Hall (with a gentleman with me who desired to go off from the Tower, to see the fire, in my boat); to White Hall, and there up to the Kings house in the Chappell, where people come about me, and did give them an account dismayed them all, and word was carried in to the King. So I was called for, and did tell the King and Duke of Yorke what I saw, and that unless his Majesty did command houses to be pulled down nothing could stop the fire. They seemed much troubled, and the King commanded me to go to my Lord Mayor—[Sir Thomas Bludworth.]—from him, and command him to spare no houses, but to pull down before the fire every way. The Duke of York bid me tell him that if he would have any more soldiers he shall; and so did my Lord Arlington afterwards, as a great secret.

Here meeting, with Captain Cocke, I in his coach, which he lent me, and Creed with me to Paul's, and there walked along Watlingstreet, as well as I could, every creature coming away laden with goods to save, and here and there sick people carried away in beds. Extraordinary good goods carried in carts and on backs. At last met my Lord Mayor in Canningstreet, like a man spent, with a handkerchief about his neck. To the King's message he cried, like a fainting woman, "Lord! What can I do? I am spent: people will not obey me. I have been pulling down houses; but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it." That he needed no more soldiers; and that, for himself, he must go and refresh himself, having been up all night. So he left me, and I him, and walked home, seeing people all almost distracted, and no manner of means used to quench the fire. The houses, too, so very thick thereabouts, and full of matter for burning, as pitch and tar, in Thames-street; and warehouses of oil, and wines, and brandy, and other things. Here I saw Mr. Isaake Houblon, the handsome man, prettily dressed and dirty, at his door at Dowgate, receiving some of his brothers' things, whose houses were on fire; and, as he says, have been removed twice already; and he doubts (as it soon proved) that they must be in a little time removed from his house also, which was a sad consideration.

Which one of the following most accurately states the main point of the passage?

Possible Answers:

People were more inclined to take their riches than save their homes.

The blaze quickly became a disorderly disaster. 

The narrator had experience with this sort of disaster.

The narrator is an important man.

The narrator was just acting as an observer.

Correct answer:

The blaze quickly became a disorderly disaster. 

Explanation:

Obviously some of the other statements are true or partially true. We can say, for example that the narrator was probably important or that he acted for a large part as an observer but the main point of the passage is that the blaze quickly became a disaster and was in part due to the disorderly nature of the city and of its inhabitants. The reluctance of the mayor for instance to accept further help and the crowds trying to escape hindering his actions show just this.

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